Superstars are expected to deliver during big games against the best competition. If that’s the case, Pacers swingman Paul George has definitely arrived after elevating his game this week against the Eastern Conference’s top two teams.
Indiana Pacers' Paul George (24) goes in for a dunk during the second half their game against the New York Knicks, Thursday in Indianapolis. The Pacers won 81-76. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
If people were on the fence about George being an All-Star at the beginning of the week, the 22-year-old, third-year player out of Fresno State sure bulldozed those fences after dropping 29 points and 11 rebounds in a win over the Heat on Tuesday while effectively containing LeBron James on defense, and an exceptional all-around performance logging in 24 points, 11 rebounds, six steals, five assists and a block against the Knicks on national TV.
In a nationally televised game in front of a sold-out crowd and one former Pacer great-turned broadcaster, 2012 Hall of Fame-inductee Reggie Miller, George showcased his full arsenal in leading his team at both ends of the court for the 81-76 win as fans were treated to a glimpse of their past and their future at home.
The defensive-minded George, who is quickly climbing the ranks as the league’s best pickpocket, stepped up when it mattered most and used two of his career-high six steals to ignite a 13-0 run by the Pacers after New York took a 62-58 lead early in the fourth. The Pacers never trailed since.
Pacers head coach Frank Vogel may have painted George’s virtuoso performances best.
“He's the leading scorer on the fourth-best team in the NBA and I think everyone has to ask the question, if Bruce Bowen was averaging 17 points a game and leading his team in scoring, would he be an All-Star every year?” Vogel said after Tuesday’s win over Miami.
George is simply doing it all and carrying his team on his back despite their battles with injuries as Danny Granger continues to sit due to his left knee, Roy Hibbert leaving the game with back spasms, and George Hill battling bronchitis.
“They are for real,” Knicks center Tyson Chandler said about the Pacers after the game.
George is averaging 19.8 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 2.4 steals per in the month of January.
Asked what his adjustments would be once longtime team leader Danny Granger comes back into the lineup, George’s approach was as unselfish as his play all year long.
"If anything, I hope my assists will go up," George said.
In an interview with this scribe after the game, George pointed out how much the time he spent with perennial All-Stars such as James and Kevin Durant during the offseason has helped him elevate his game this season.
“I spent a lot of time with LeBron (James), KD (Durant), Amar’e (Stoudemire), Rudy (Gay),” George told NBA.com Philippines. “I really picked their minds and it really helped me moving forward as far as understanding the game a little bit […] just for one, the way they carry themselves, I think that alone help them on the court – just the presence that they carry – and that’s something I’ve picked up from them.”
Sure enough, George has stepped up his game this season and is a top candidate for Most Improved and Defensive Player of the Year awards, while leading the Pacers to the top of the Central Division. If he keeps it up, he might very well find himself spending more time with the likes of James and Durant again – in Houston that is, as a fellow NBA All-Star.
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